- Fantomy rossiiskogo obshchestva by Zh. T. Toshchenko
This fundamental work by Russian Academy of Science Corresponding Member Zh. T. Toshchenko is a logical extension of his long-term study of paradoxicality1 and kentavrizm (centaurism)2 in Russian society. However, this study has an individual, pioneering quality, as for the first time in the sociological literature it offers a justification for the conditions and the production mechanism of distinct, contradictory cases, paradoxical social realities as phantoms. By “phantoms” the author has in mind the phenomena and processes that embody specific, extravagant forms of social consciousness and activity, the bearers of which have hypertrophied characteristics—the inordinate thirst for power, the unlimited desire to possess wealth, and the morbid desire for fame. In its latent form, the phantom phenomena have always existed, but in times of radical change, when the foundations of the state and public life are breaking down, they tend to manifest themselves as a significant social phenomenon, bringing destructiveness at all levels of social organization (54–55).
An undeniable advantage of this research is that it reveals the underlying causes and origins of the rise of phantoms in public consciousness and behavior. The sharp increase in phantom forms is now characteristic for virtually every country transitioning from industrial modernity to reflexive modernity and postmodernity, which is due to the total dispersion of the social unit against the backdrop of increasingly complex social and cultural dynamics.3 However, in our country these processes were encumbered by revolutionary radicalism, which, as P. A. Sorokin has previously stated, merely brings illusions of faith in a fast and easy materialization of high ideals, at the same time giving rise to “abruptly promoted” top-level managers, who possessed neither professional nor personal qualities.4 According to Toshchenko, the collapse of the Soviet [End Page 355] Union led to the dissolution of a deeply-rooted way of life, to a reexamination of attitudes and values; the very foundation of people’s world views disappeared. The advent of opportunistic capitalism and market relations based on an irrational drive for profit,5 stimulated the appearance of people who, due to their personal social and psychological characteristics, saw an opportunity in the new situation “not only to change their life, but to lay claim to an even higher social status, a ‘worthy’ official status and recognition. Often this coincided with an inadequate assessment of their own abilities and capabilities” (65).
These high-status positions were achieved through both legitimate and illegitimate, or a combination thereof. The main claims of these public figures were wealth, power, and fame. In order to disguise their true intentions, they actively used a “method of donning false masks,” actively assisted by such additional devices as establishing political parties, social movements, and lobbies, as well as support by the mass media, especially television (69). These performances with masks, which are becoming all the more widespread in today’s world, as shown by J. Alexander, have given rise to a process of re-encoding the meaning of man and his activities. The paradoxical phantom takes the form of a “dual embodiment”: on the one hand there is the real body of the individual which, as a rule, possesses its ordinary abilities; but on the other hand there is a body representing a “hero” of the public, which seeks quick and easy solutions for their daily problems.6 Phantoms are far from harmless; on the contrary, they bring destructiveness and dysfunctionality to society, they pose a threat to the self-sufficiency of society, which, according to T. Parsons, interferes with society’s ability to control both internal processes and its relationship with its environment.7 Many of the new socio-economic and political conflicts in Russian society have originated precisely through such phantoms.
Fortunately, phantoms seem to be a short-lived phenomenon. Similar figures have appeared suddenly and just as quickly disappeared from the pages of history of society and the state, which still “awaits interpretation” (64). In order to interpret the phenomenon of short-lived phantoms, let us make three points...